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This Week in Texas Music History: Robert Shaw

by Stephen Becker 18 May 2012 2:12 PM

This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet a pioneer of barrelhouse piano who started his career underneath the house.


Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman introduces us to a pioneer of barrelhouse piano who started his career underneath the house.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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Robert Shaw died on May 16, 1985. Born in Stafford, Texas, on Aug. 9, 1908, Shaw was not allowed to study piano as a child, since his parents thought that was not appropriate for a boy. Undaunted, the young Shaw hid underneath the house and listened while his sister practiced her piano lessons. By the 1920s, Shaw had become an accomplished player of the barrelhouse piano style, also known as boogie-woogie, which combined blues, jazz and the syncopated rhythms of ragtime.

Robert Shaw toured the country throughout the 1930s, before settling in East Austin, where he operated a grocery store for many years. During the 1960s, he was rediscovered by a younger generation of fans and soon was performing on stages throughout the world. Shaw was a dynamic performer who helped lay the foundation for Austin’s live music scene long before the city was known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll learn about a record label that was a real feather in the cap of the Texas recording industry.